Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Time to Volunteer

Parshat Balak
4 Tammuz, 5771
July 6th, 2011

What confuses people is that tzedakah is not voluntary. Unlike the English “charity,” from the Latin caritas, implying voluntary affection or love, tzedakah is from the word tzedek – (obligatory) justice.
 For our ancestors, tzedakah meant a communal obligation from which they were not free to desist. Often the village court determined what it thought each person was able to give, and then sent gabaim to collect. (Tur Yoreh Deah 348) Rabbi Eli Schochet tells the story that his grandfather, a community rabbi in Lithuania, would stop at each house in the village for the purposes of tzedakah: either you gave or you took; those were the only two options.
The money from the tzedakah collection was used to provide soup kitchens and food for poor families, trousseaus for orphan brides, and clothing collections. It made sure that people had the basics. And it was not a choice.
Which is why I am devastated by the new state budget, driven by our financial reality, which cut somewhere between $7 and $15 billion to social services to the needy, elderly, and disabled, public education, and national parks (in Jewish communities, taxes were levied for education and civil defense/maintenance). I understand these cuts to violate foundational communal mitzvot of the Torah, which teach that it is our first responsibility to protect the weak, “lest there be a nasty thing in your heart…and your eye is evil upon your needy brother and you do not give to him…and you bear sin because of [how you treated] him” (Deuteronomy 15:9)
Since the deed is done, I believe it upon us to compensate for these changes in another way.
It’s time for us to start volunteering.
We need to fill the money gap with our volunteer hours. We need to help them with that for which they are unable to pay. We all need to become volunteers, and in the areas that need it most: the needy, the elderly, the disabled, or education.
We American Jews possess unrivaled professional talents, and by giving of them we can make a difference. It’s time to change. I am personally committing to volunteering at least twice a month to serve. I invite you to join me on the way.

Great Los Angeles Volunteering Opportunities:
Jewish Family Services –
The Midnight
Volunteer Los Angeles (a great website with multiple volunteering options) –
Meals on Wheels –

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